Two high-profile Republican Congressional primaries in Kansas and Michigan will conclude today after weeks of back- and-forth between the top candidates.
In Kansas’ 3rd district, 2002 nominee Adam Taff, former Overland Park City Councilman Kris Kobach and state Rep. Patricia Barbieri-Lightner are battling for the right to face Rep. Dennis Moore (D) in the fall; in Michigan’s 7th district open seat the race has narrowed down to one conservative and one moderate.
Six men are vying for the right to replace retiring Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) but until the last few weeks, the five conservative candidates were having a difficult time differentiating themselves and breaking away from the pack.
Early on it seemed state Rep. Clark Bisbee would be the conservative to beat as he snagged the National Right to Life and Michigan Chamber of Commerce endorsements but then seemed to fall flat in the polls.
Former state Sen. Joe Schwarz, a family physician who headed up Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) successful effort to win the 2000 Michigan GOP presidential primary, led in every early poll. Conservatives had hoped to rally around one candidate to take him on and the Bisbee endorsements were supposed to encourage some anti-abortion candidates to abandon their bid — but none did.
Attorney Brad Smith, son of the retiring Congressman, had initially been in the middle of the pack. But buoyed by a bulging war chest, filled in no small part by the Club for Growth, he appears to be within striking distance of Schwarz.
The latest poll shows Schwarz and Smith tied at 22 percent each with Bisbee at 14 and former state Rep. Tim Walberg, state Rep. Gene DeRossett and former state Rep. Paul DeWeese trailing behind. Only a few weeks before the primary, a full 17 percent of GOP voters were still undecided.
The campaign has intensified recently and featured charges of campaign violations, defamatory advertisements and stolen yard signs.
Schwarz’s campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Smith for supposedly invoking the so-called millionaire’s amendment of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act prematurely.
The FEC has yet to rule but if Smith did improperly accept contributions above the regular limit, he would have to return the difference.
Under BCRA, if one House candidate contributes $350,000 more to his own campaign than other candidates did to theirs, than his opponents can collect more from individual donors.
Schwarz, who has been on the defensive as the other five candidates have focused their attacks on him, also accused Walberg’s campaign of distorting his record and making defamatory statements. His lawyer even sent Walberg — who has created a special “stop Joe” fund — a letter threatening legal action.
Schwarz’s campaign also accused Bisbee’s folks of stealing his signs and replacing them with Bisbee’s.
Most recently Schwarz, who is backed by the League of Conservation Voters, chided Smith for calling himself a fiscal conservative in favor of smaller government while accepting almost $500,000 in government farm subsidies.
Smith, who is a farmer in addition to being a lawyer, said he would propose scaling back the subsidies but that they are necessary to help farmers and stabilize the market.
Schwarz has the endorsements of several major newspapers, including the Detroit Free Press, and recently won the backing of former Gov. William Milliken, a popular, long-serving Republican known for his efforts to clean up the Great Lakes.
The winner will be the heavy favorite in November in the Republican district.
Three Democrats are vying for their party’s nominations: Sharon Renier, Drew Walker and Douglas Wilson.
The storyline in the Kansas City-based 3rd district is a familiar one as a moderate and a conservative battle it out for the party’s Republican nomination.
In 2000 and 2002 these warring factions within the party battered each other in the primary, leaving their nominee in an uphill contest against Moore.
Moore is once again in a solid position to hold this Republican-leaning district with $1.1 million on hand at the end of June.
Taff is the moderate in the Republican contest and also the favorite due to name recognition built up from his 2002 run, where he won an ideological primary only to lose to Moore in November, 50 percent to 47 percent.
Kobach has positioned himself as the race’s conservative, touting his opposition to abortion (Taff favors abortion rights) and his hard- line opposition to tax increases.
Financially, Taff has the edge. He had raised $685,000 as of July 30 compared to $376,000 for Kobach.
“We have gone into the final weekend with more money on television, radio and direct mail than our opponent,” said Taff campaign manager Bob Zender.
Taff is currently running both a positive and a comparative track of ads. The comparative spot attacks Kobach for being “on both sides of several different issues” including abortion, taxes and immigration, said Zender.
Kobach is also on the air with both positive and comparative commercials.
In the latter, Taff’s positions on gay marriage, immigration and parental consent for abortions is compared to the similar stances of liberal icons like Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).
Kobach’s campaign acknowledged that they are being outspent on television but believe they are using their resources more intelligently.
“I don’t think television is the right route to go,” said Kobach campaign manager Todd Abrajano. “We are very targeted in terms of where we are spending our money.”
As an example, Abrajano said Kobach’s radio advertising is running only on conservative and Christian radio stations while Taff’s ads are on a much broader palette of stations.
“A lot of their money is being wasted,” Abrajano maintained.
The X-factor in the race is Barbieri-Lightner, who has been largely silent to this point but is now on television. She had raised only $95,000 — more than half of which came in the form of a $50,000 personal loan — as of July 30.
Kobach’s campaign has largely ignored Barbieri-Lightner, a fellow conservative, choosing to focus all of their rhetorical firepower on Taff.
Zender, on the other hand, argued that Lightner is picking up significant support and is a real factor in the race, a somewhat self-serving analysis given that any votes Lightner receives likely come out of Kobach’s conservative base.
“[She] has come on very strong in the last 14 days,” said Zender. “She is starting to spread her message.”